Lydia Emily

Go Inside The Mind of Los Angeles Muralist Lydia Emily

Lydia Emily

After her recent mural projects with Gucci’s Chime for Change, and the The Weinstein Company for a new movie about Oscar Grant, Mass Appeal sat down with Los Angeles based muralist Lydia Emily to learn more about the messages she is trying to carry with her art.

How did you become involved with Jessica and Gucci’s Chime for Change charity?

Libby Spears from Bluprint Films contacted me about the Gucci mural. She wanted a street artist/muralist, who was a women and only did political work. And that lead her to me as that seems to be a small group of one.

Lydia Emily, Van Arno
Lydia Emily, Van Arno

Lydia Emily

In the video you mentioned the location of the mural is also a popular place to conduct drug deals and you were harassed while painting the mural and someone even defecated on the wall, what kept you motivated to continue in the face of so much hostility?

On the 2nd day of panting there was shit on the wall and we thought it was a random Skidrow event. But then it was there again the next day and this time speared in to the paint. Its a big drug dealing corner and they did NOT want us there. The local dealers drove by and threw trash at us, and yelled “Go Home!” One of my crew said “I love this project, but its not worth dying over.” But I stood my ground. bringing buckets of bleach and water and scrubbing the wall myself. I never left and they gave up as the rest of community came out and supported us as they realized my mural was not an Ad for Coke or just a name tag but a message for the women of Skidrow.

Lydia's daughters
Lydia’s daughters

Lydia Emily looking up at her mural

Lydia Emily mural in Los Angeles

The moment you showed Jessica her mural in Libby Spears’ documentary “Jessica’s Story” is very emotional. What was it like to have such a powerful reaction from her?

I was so moved, I can even put into words how I felt. The Jessica story is by far my must fulfilling project to date.

Lydia Emily paint and portrait

Lydia Emily with paint on her hands

Jessica's mural in Los Angeles by Lydia Emily
Jessica’s mural in Los Angeles

From your work helping Tibetans for The Karma Underground to your recent murals of Oscar Grant and Jessica, your art has always brought awareness to injustices of people that would not normally have a voice. When you started as an artist did you intend this, or did your work evolve into it?

I have always painted political injustices. But, I also paint my kids, and my loved ones, but those are not for sale. It is my belief that if you are in the public eye it is your moral duty to speak out. For me that is painting. My parents always told me to live your life everyday as it was on the front page of the New York Times. That your actions will be documented and matter. My mother was a civil rights activist in the ’60s so I was brought up with the motto, “Once you know, you can’t not know.”  The object was to do something with that knowledge. If you can write, tell it, if not yell it. I paint it.  I was told by many close friends to give up. “No gallery will ever hang political art.” one curator told me, “No one wants that in their home.” It is not true. If you paint the truth, it will be seen. Art can do more than just hang, it can help. With my multiple sclerosis I become more limited each day with my loss of use of my hands and legs. But I will be painting in a wheelchair with brush in my mouth before I give up. You can count on it.

Oscar Grant's mural in San Francisco
Oscar Grant’s mural in San Francisco

Text: Keisha Leng / Photos: Birdman for Mass Appeal, Last photo courtesy of: Libby Spears

This wall was last featured with Risk here.


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